Uber’s driverless sport utility vehicle that struck and killed a woman in Arizona during a test run isn’t spooking carriers from developing coverage for the technology. The industry is proceeding ahead, and the incident offers a tragic but valuable learning experience, a major industry group and consulting company say.
“We always knew there would be some accidents with these kinds of vehicles as they got more and more into use,” said Bob Passmore, assistant vice president of Personal Lines Policy for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. “Most people believe that they will go a long way toward reducing the number of crashes, but as long as they share the road with other users [vehicles with drivers or people walking], there is always the possibility that there could be an accident.”
Andrew Millinship, risk management executive, Risk Consulting for Willis Towers Watson, agreed that industry attitudes toward the potential of driverless vehicles are still positive.
“Although the Uber accident is regrettable, it is seen by many parties, including insurers, that autonomous vehicles will reduce the number of incidents,” Millinship told Carrier Management via email. “It is doubted that this specific incident will prevent or change insurance companies’ current activities to prepare to offer insurance coverage to initially facilitate testing and then, by utilizing this experience gained, provide to consumers an appropriate insurance” option.
Millinship added: “Insurers are preparing very well for the introduction of autonomous vehicles and have been doing so for several years.”
The Uber vehicle struck and killed a woman crossing the street on March 19 in Arizona – apparently the first fatality caused by an autonomous vehicle – and the ride services company subsequently suspended its autonomous vehicle program in the United States and Canada. U.S. regulators are investigating, video and other data from the accident has been released, and the victim’s daughter has retained a personal attorney, Reuters reported. Old Republic International Corp. in Chicago provided commercial liability coverage as high as $5 million for each of Uber’s self-driving vehicles, Bloomberg said.
PCI’s Passmore said that it is too early to determine whether the accident will affect insurer coverage development efforts for driverless vehicles, though he said carriers are likely not spooked by what happened. The accident, as awful as it is, gives carriers a case study about how to respond to an accident involving a driverless vehicle, he noted.
“One of the points we have consistently made is that there are things insurers will need to be able to adapt to this changing nature of driving risk as it becomes more and more about systems taking a bigger and bigger role in driving vehicles” and less about drivers, Passmore said.
Passmore noted that investigators are gradually assessing video and other sensor data from the Uber accident in an effort to determine what might be at fault, similar to what they’d do anyway when asking questions of a driver after an accident.
The bigger issue, he said, is an ongoing one – determining how you put a regulatory framework in place that ensures safety but “does not throttle innovation” and lets technology “reach its full potential.”
“This accident will perhaps bring that to more people’s attention,” Passmore said.